By VICKI SMITH
Associated Press Writer
REEDSVILLE, W.Va. — Mud is flying, smoke and steam are rising, and the deafening roar of V-8 engines all but drowns out 5-year-old Shelby Scott's screams.
"Get out of there! Get out of there!" she yells at the driver of a battered blue Ford LTD spray-painted with the words "Hillbilly Beer Wagon." But car No. 42 stalls in the center of the tire-ringed oval, stranded while 11 others smash into each other, over and over, until only one is moving.
Driver Dave Cumpston, 35, a mechanic from Buckhannon, W.Va., holds his first-place trophy after winning the V-8 engine class at the Valley District Fair Demolition Derby, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008, in Reedsville, W.Va.. Soaring scrap metal prices are making crashable cars more expensive and harder to find. (AP Photo/Vicki Smith) Then Dave Cumpston climbs out of No. 29 through the space where the windshield should be and grabs a shiny trophy at the Valley District Fair Demolition Derby.
It's his first win in six years, he says, and maybe his last: After a decade of building then gleefully crashing cars, the 35-year-old mechanic from Buckhannon is giving up his increasingly unaffordable sport.
Soaring scrap metal prices are making crashable cars more expensive and harder to find. Owners who used to sell their worn-out wheels for $50 to $100 are turning to scrap dealers instead, getting nearly triple the price. That creates a double whammy for drivers like Cumpston, who must burn more high-priced gasoline in an ever-expanding search zone.
Demolition derbies are more than an outlet for road rage and a rite of summer in rural America: They're a mainstay of country fairs and a revenue generator for volunteer organizations like the Reedsville Volunteer Fire Company. When participation drops, so does the size of the crowd — and the host's profit margin.
The Midwest is taking an exceptionally hard hit this summer because of regional scrap-metal prices, though Tory Schutte of the Demolition Derby Drivers Association says participation is down nationwide, "easily cut in half."
Every state but Hawaii stages at least one derby a year, and Schutte, of Genoa City, Wis., is accustomed to seeing more than 100 cars at a single event. This year, there are only 40 to 50 as drivers of modest means are forced out.
Aggravating their situation is growing interest by a new breed of participants — doctors, lawyers and other professionals willing to spend more money on the vehicles. Some sink as much as $5,000 into a single engine.
While scrap iron and steel prices vary regionally, Savage says they've easily doubled in the past two summers, from about $240 per ton in July 2006 to $523 per ton now.